The Whitehead-based Railway Preservation Society of Ireland is among the major beneficiaries of a new Heritage Recovery Fund being administered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The RPSI has been offered funding of £167,300 to cover items such as staff salaries, insurance costs, crew training and digital outputs.

The money, which has to be spent by the end of March, is designed to help the Society to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic, which brought the RPSI’s usual activities to a standstill.

RPSI chairman John McKegney said: “This grant is a real life-saver as far as the Society is concerned. We are most grateful to the Department for the Communities and The National Lottery Heritage Fund for their assistance.

“The RPSI hit the buffers when the pandemic struck last March. At a stroke we lost our two main income streams – our mainline steam trains and our Whitehead Railway Museum.

“Although the museum was able to re-open for three months during the summer, we have not so far been able to resume our popular trains such as the Steam & Jazz and Portrush Flyer.

“This funding will enable us to accelerate our plans to get up and running again, once we get the green light from the Executive.”

Lisa Adair, the RPSI General Manager, commented: “The RPSI, which has an annual turnover of £1m, has sizeable fixed costs such as insurance and salaries to cover every year.

“Without our usual income streams we had to furlough staff, fall back on our reserves and seek assistance from various funders as well as support from our 1,200 members.

“This support from the Heritage Recovery Fund gives us the confidence to make plans to re-open our museum at Whitehead, hopefully in the late spring. Our aim is to be back on the mainline later in the year.”

Paul Mullan, Director, Northern Ireland, of The National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “We are grateful to the Department for Communities for providing this funding and enabling us to help a wide range of organisations and individuals in Northern Ireland’s heritage sector to recover from the current crisis.

“The risks to heritage sites, attractions and organisations from a sudden and dramatic loss of income as a result of the pandemic, have put the heritage and visitor economy in crisis, and this funding will play a vital role in their recovery.

“Heritage has an essential role to play in making communities better places to live, creating economic prosperity and supporting personal wellbeing. All of these are going to be vitally important as we emerge from the current pandemic.”

The Heritage Recovery Fund is part of a £29m Stormont Executive package designed to support the arts, culture, heritage and language sectors in Northern Ireland.

In total, 50 organisations and 41 individuals have been awarded grants through the fund to help them to adapt, recover and re-open following the pandemic.

The Heritage Recovery Fund is the latest package of support from the NLHF for the heritage sector across the UK throughout the COVID-19 crisis. 

Across the UK, the organisation committed over £600m of National Lottery and Government funding to more than 1,500 heritage organisations in 2020, along with expertise and advice on adapting to the pandemic.

To find out more about The National Lottery Heritage Fund, go to:  www.heritagefund.org.uk 

To find out more about the RPSI, go to: www.steamtrainsireland.com

For further information and interviews, contact Lisa Adair, RPSI General Manager, at Whitehead Railway Museum. Tel: 028-9358-6200. Email: gm@steamtrainsireland.com